Nicholas didn’t say a word. He simply turned and left.
“Bye, Nick–lass!” Elva called, before happily returning to her waffles.
Deflated, I corrected my chair and flopped down onto it. None of the girls spoke to me during the rest of
Susie might have, but she was still too embarrassed from her own comment. Her gaze never lifted to
The longer I sat there in silence, with the girls chattering amongst themselves, the more suffocated I
began to feel in the palace.
The girls‘ conversations had more or less returned to the same topics as before, as if I had not spoken
up at all. I hated being surrounded by so much vanity and selfishness. It made me worry that I was
becoming that way too.
By the time Elva and I had finished breakfast and were on our way back to our room, I felt like I might
vibrate straight out of my skin. I was uncomfortable and unhappy.
The looming threat of my punishment weighed on my mind too.
Mark was still waiting outside of our room, talking to the new guards. I stopped in front of him and tried
to gather my thoughts.
“Something wrong, Piper?” he asked.
“Not wrong, exactly. But I do have a question.”
He nodded, encouraging me.
7f1 wanted to go somewhere during my off–time, would I be allowed? Somewhere off the palace
grounds. With Elva, of course.”
Of course! Elva chimed in
be able to arrange something.” Mark said. “But where would you want to go?
omewhere I could center myself, and maybe do some good? I don’t know. Maybe I’m overthinking
ything I rubbed my forehead.
looked at me curquely, like i was a puzzle yet to be completed.
“Somewhere like an orphanage, perhaps?” I suggested. “I could help serve lunch later, and Elva could play with the kids.”
Elva gasped. “Yay! Let’s go there! I want to play!”
Mark’s eyes went a little wide. Had I surprised him? Maybe he spent too much time in the palace too, if he was thinking the worst of everyone like I was.
1 know a place. It should be okay, but…” He looked away.
“But?” I prompted.
He shook his head, then smiled at me. “Never mind. I’ll take you myself. Meet me out front in fifteen
“Yay!” Elva cheered, and this time I joined her.
As soon as we arrived at the orphanage, Elva went running to the playground to meet and play with the
Mark introduced me to the head caretaker, an older woman who was exceptionally sweet. She shook
my hand many times in a row.
“We’re so pleased to have another helping hand,” she said. “So many generous spirits in the palace.”
Her words took a moment to sink in. Another helping hand?
“It seems even here, I cannot escape from being intruded upon.
I looked up to the open entryway where Nicholas was standing. He stared at me expressionlessly for a
moment, before his gaze slid to Mark.
“Your Royal Highness! You didn’t tell me you were coming here!” Mark said, sputtering.
Nicholas’s eyes narrowed marginally, in suspicion.
I faced Mark as well. He hadn’t mentioned that Nicholas might be here.
Mark was nervous under my stare, too. “He comes here sometimes to help, but I swear I didn’t know he
would be here today, or I wouldn’t have brought you.”
To Nicholas, he explained, “She wanted to get out of the palace for a while. She asked if there was an
hanage nearby, where she could help out. Of course, I would bring her here.”
A coincidence? I asked.
Mark crossed his heart with his finger.
I turned back to Nicholas, but he was already heading back inside.
The caretaker smiled. “Prince Nicholas is truly a good man.” She patted my arm consolingly. “Don’t be off
-put by the hard shell he wears. It’s the inside that counts.”
Inside, he hated me too, but I didn’t want to tell her that.
“Truly, having you both here is a blessing. Sometimes the kids are more than these old bones can
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